I came quite late to the progressive death metal of the 1990s. In fact, were it not for the internet I may have come later still. The early to mid-90s gave birth to some wonderfully new re-imaginings of death metal. Incorporating the recklessness of thrash, the rhythmic complexity of jazz and demonstrating a penchant to experiment melodically and harmony, progressive metal of this time has been as much maligned and ignored as it has been praised. Atheist stormed onto the metal stage in 1989 with twisted rhythms, harmonized leads and swinging bass. Cynic changed all the rules in 1993 as they emphasized fluid, tribal rhythms, burbling fretless bass, alien sounding vocoded vocals and lead work that gave more than a nod to traditional jazz guitar filtered through a death metal aesthetic.
Death meanwhile, started out in the vein of early thrash flavoured death metal and grew to into something else entirely. Schuldiner’s leads and riffs became increasingly melodic and his solos adventurous. On the savage yet melancholy Sound of Perseverance, it is possible to hear Schuldiner’s frustration with the limits of metal as he explores new ideas. Indeed on first listen Perseverance’s compositions seem a bit jerky and incohesive. Multiple listens, however, reveal the purpose of these stop-start tendencies. What makes repeat listens enjoyable is that these fragments are held together by an unfailing commitment to melody and narrative. Songs twist, turn and surprise, as was no doubt, Schuldiner’s purpose. Equally challenging and enjoyable, the Sound of Perseverance was the perfect swan song for Death. Who knows where Schuldiner would have gone next? What would he have made of groups such as Dysrhythmia and Obscura who have taken his explorations to new heights.Perseverance is reasonably widely available on vinyl (unlike Symbolic…).